Clean It Up, Swimmers

Clean it up, swimmers


Clean It Up, Swimmers [PDF – 1 page]


Clean It Up, Swimmers

Pools are great for perfecting your backstroke or relaxing on your favorite float. But they can also spread diarrhea and other illnesses.

Germs don’t jump into the water like we do. They surf in on people’s bodies.

But what about chlorine?

Healthy pools don’t have a strong chemical smell.

  • Pool chemicals kill most germs within minutes, but some live for days.
  • Chemicals also break down pee, poop, sweat, dirt, and other gunk from swimmers’ bodies. But this uses up the chemicals, leaving less available to kill germs.
  • Smell that “chlorine”? It’s actually chemicals that form when chlorine mixes with the gunk. These chemicals—not chlorine—make your eyes red and sting, your nose run, and make you cough.

What’s in your cannonball?

Microbes are tiny living organisms. Some microbes are germs that can make you sick.

Here are the microbes and gunk the average swimmer can bring into the pool:

  • Hair: 10 million microbes 1
  • Spit: 8 million microbes in a single drop 2
  • Hands: 5 million microbes 3
  • Poop: 140 billion microbes 4
    • A kid brings 10 grams of poop—the weight of 4 pennies—with 10 trillion microbes. 4
  • Nose, mouth, skin: Billions of microbes 5
  • Skin products: Lotions, cosmetics, soaps
  • Sweat: 1 or 2 soda cans 6
  • Pee: 1 cup 7

Now think about how much of that same water you swallow in 45 minutes of swimming:8

  • Adults: 1 tablespoon
  • Kids: 2 ½ tablespoons

That’s more than enough to make you sick!

Keep germs out of the water and water out of your mouth.

Follow these 4 steps for healthier swimming:

  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before you get into the water.
  • Don’t pee or poop in the water.
  • Don’t swallow the water.

The pool is only as clean as you are!

  1. Mueller RL, Volkamer U. Germ transfer into swimming pool water by head hair. Zentralbl Bakteriol Mikrobiol Hyg B. 1983;178(3):280-96.
  2. Dawes C, Tsang RW L, Suelzle T. The effects of gum chewing, four oral hygiene procedures, and two saliva collection techniques, on the output of bacteria into human whole saliva. Arch Oral Biol. 2001;46(7):625-32.
  3. Price PB. The bacteriology of normal skin: A new quantitative test applied to a study of the bacterial flora and the disinfectant action of mechanical cleansing. J Infec Dis. 1950;15:305-24.
  4. Gerba CP. Assessment of enteric pathogen shedding by bathers during recreational activity and its impact on water quality. Quant Microbiol. 2000;2(1):55-68.
  5. Plano LR, Garza AC, Shibata T, Elmir SM, Kish J, Sinigalliano CD, Gidley ML, Miller G, Withum K, Fleming LE, Solo-Gabriele HM. Shedding of Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from adult and pediatric bathers in marine waters. BMC Microbiol. 2011;11(1):5.
  6. Cox GR, Broad EM, Riley MD, Burke LM. Body mass changes and voluntary fluid intakes of elite level water polo players and swimmers. J Sci Med Sport. 2002;5(3):183-93.
  7. Van Haarst EP, Heldeweg EA, Newling DW, Schlatmann TJ. The 24‐h frequency‐volume chart in adults reporting no voiding complaints: defining reference values and analysing variables. BJU Int. 2004;93(9):1257-61.
  8. Dufour A, Evans O, Behymer T, Cantu R. Water ingestion during swimming activities in a pool: a pilot study. J Water Health. 2006;4:425-30.
Page last reviewed: December 23, 2021